PR and media relations lessons from a war zone

A retired Army colonel who managed the U.S. military’s flow of information during Operation Iraqi Freedom, says the private sector can gain insights from that high-stakes give-and-take.

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Though the relationship between public-affairs professionals and the press becomes uniquely charged in combat situations, it still holds lessons for PR professionals in the private sector. I would say that the sometimes-troubled dynamic between the two groups on the battlefield merely draws out tensions that underlie the work between PR professionals and the media in all environments.

Based on my experience, those tensions can be overcome. Though their perspectives and desires may be different, soldiers and reporters are not as incompatible as most people may think. Both parties want to tell a story, and at the end of the day, both parties want to get it right.

Every PR professional instinctively understands that one of the keys to his or her success is maintaining a positive relationship with reporters. The most valuable lesson I learned during my combat tour in Iraq was that maintaining a good relationship with reporters was not only a good idea professionally, but it also saved lives; and though the stakes in the corporate world are lower—the potential casualties are reputations rather than soldiers—they remain meaningful.

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